It seems almost certain that the upcoming Peruvian presidential elections will see another left-wing, populist leader take power in Latin America. Former army officer Ollanta Humala has surged from fringe-candidate status a few months ago to becoming the clear front-runner ahead of the first round of voting on Sunday.
Humala's "march towards power seems all but unstoppable", says the FT. "He may not win the more than 50% necessary to claim victory in the first round but the smart money is on his triumphing in the second round run-off."
Humala's rise has resulted from his skillful use of the same grass-roots movements among the poor that have propelled other leaders, such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales, to office. "His policies, including nationalisation of key industries and the legalisation of coca-growing, mirror those of other radical South American leaders," says The Daily Telegraph. "So, too, do his tactics," notes The Sunday Telegraph. "Humala's supporters are establishing a network of social action groups' to prevent political opponents from blocking his plans."
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The prospect of a Humala victory makes both foreign investors and wealthier Peruvians jittery. In addition to his nationalist policies, few observers find his background encouraging. He "lacks a coherent manifesto and previous political experience", says The Economist. He has also been accused of human rights abuses during the war against the Shining Path guerrilla movement, of anti-Semitism and of financial connections to Chavez.
But Humala seems to be shrugging off all his rivals' efforts to unseat him. "He has faced a concerted media campaign against him and his party has been plagued by infighting. But none of this has prevented the inexorable rise of the Teflon candidate'," says the FT. The main reason for this has been Humala's "ability to tap into widespread resentment towards the political and economic elite".
As is the case elsewhere in Latin America, this resentment has resulted from a conviction among the poor that globalisation and free-market economic policies are only benefiting big business. Thanks to the ineptitude of the outgoing administration of Alejandro Toledo, they have genuine grounds for complaint. While Peru's economy has averaged a healthy 5% a year growth over the last four years, "even by regional standards, education and health services are poor and infrastructure is lacking", says The Economist. "In today's Latin America, neglect of poverty and social programmes is an open invitation to populist outsiders."
The biggest concern is how Humala might act, given his military background and lack of political track record. Right now, no one seems to have much idea. "One theory is he would turn out to be like Lucio Gutirrez, another former army colonel, who won power in Ecuador in 2002 by campaigning as an outsider, but adopted moderate policies in office before being overthrown for heavy-handedness," says The Economist. "Another is that Mr Humala would be a less economically competent and more thuggish version of Mr Fujimori", Peru's autocratic president during the 1990s.
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